Solomon Islands and two Pacific island countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, M-O-U, for cooperation on the Extended Continental Shelf Claims Submission on the Ontong Java Plateau to the United Nations.

The Governments of Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, signed the M-O-U in Port Moresby last Friday.

The Agreement was signed by representatives of the three Governments. Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, His Excellency, Mr Bernard Bata'anisia signed the MOU on behalf of the Solomon Islands Government.

The continental shelf is an undersea extension of a continent which can stretch for many miles out to sea in some cases. Many nations have asserted mineral and land rights to their associated continental shelves, since this region of the ocean is rich in natural resources such as marine life.

Minerals on the continental shelf are also significantly easier to extract than minerals on the floor of the ocean, since the continental shelf is relatively shallow by comparison. By convention, many countries defend their continental shelves as territorial waters, since they are concerned about the exploitation of their natural resources.

The signing of the MOU now paves the way for the three Governments to advance their work on their joint submission to the United Nations by 13 May 2009. It also enable each of the country's to establish a National Technical Committee on Extended Continental Shelf, which will operate jointly as a Joint Technical Committee on the Extended Continental Shelf of the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

The signing ceremony was witnessed by the Papua New Guinea Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Hon Dr Alan Marat and senior officials from the three countries.

In his keynote address at the signing ceremony, Hon Dr Marat stated that the signing of the MOU is the culmination of the recognition by the three countries of the long-term potential mutual benefits from working closely together on the issues on extended continental shelf.

He added that the MOU will now enable the three countries to make a single joint extended continental shelf submission to the United Nations, which is based on the mutual recognition based on available technical, scientific and legal data and advice that a joint submission has far greater possibility of success than if it were done separately.

Hon Dr Marat also thanked various development partners, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, South Pacific Applied Geosciences Commission, the United Nations, Governments of Australia, Japan, Norway and Southampton University, for their assistance in the project.

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